This is the first school year that student must choose a fruit or vegetable as part of their lunch every day. There are increased portion sizes for fruits and vegetables.
Meal plans have calorie, saturated fat and sodium limits; all foods must contain zero grams of trans fats.
Fifty percent of all grains served, including breads, rice and pasta, must be whole grain.
Source: Tennessee Department of Education
State nutrition consultants stood at the front of the cafeteria line at Soddy-Daisy Middle School on Wednesday and watched students choose their lunches.
Lila Beasley, with the state Department of Education school nutrition program, noted that students not only had healthy food on their plates, they were eating it, despite some negative comments. Very little of the lunches was wasted, she said.
Soddy-Daisy Middle is among five Hamilton County schools that state nutrition inspectors are visiting this week to ensure schools are meeting new federal and state nutritional requirements. Other inspectors visited schools in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.
Regulations restricting calories have been put in place, said Sarah White, state director of School Nutrition Services.
The new standards are the biggest program overhaul in 15 years and affect school systems across the country, said Carolyn Childs, director of school nutrition for Hamilton County Schools.
Hamilton County had submitted menus to the state showing its plans to meet the new nutrition mandates. The inspectors came to see that the menus are implemented and that the students at least put the food on their trays.
The goal is for students to choose three different food items. One has to be a fruit or vegetable. Other choices include a meat, grain or milk. If students come to the register without the proper selections, cafeteria workers are expected to help them choose correctly.
State officials perform a "validation reviews" to see how many students are making correct choices. If a large enough percentage is choosing the right foods, the schools get to keep 6 cents for each lunch served.
Out of about 200 school systems across the state, Hamilton County is among 75 to 80 certified for having a proper menu and is approved to receive the additional 6 cents per lunch, White said.
Still, 6 cents per meal isn't enough to offset the higher cost of meeting the new requirements, which Childs said is 50 cents per meal.
She said the nutrition department will have to make up the cost internally, probably by cutting back on equipment and repairs.
Some students are not used to eating whole grains and other healthier foods that schools must offer, so it's a learning curve for students, too, Childs said.
Six students laughing and talking in the cafeteria Wednesday all said the food was bad.
Fifteen-year-old Fred Miller got a taco salad and kiwi. He left most on his plate.
"It's terrible," he said "I love kiwi but not the school's. I don't know what they did to it."
Thirteen-year-old Liz Bruce left most of her garden salad in the container.
"I don't think a lot of people like the food at all," she said.
Fourteen-year-old Paige Pelletier, who also selected the taco salad, said, "I just eat it because I'm hungry."
Instead of eating the healthier foods, some students hit the vending machines or pack their own lunches, she said. Older students may eat lunch off campus, and some do without.
"If students don't like the whole-grain rolls, we still have to serve it," said Childs. "It's like you lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."